by Ben Wright
Ever since the writer Thomas Carlyle coined his rude epithet about economics, the world of letters and the “dismal science” have circled each other warily. But in his new book about the history of the Nobel Prize, Avner Offer, a professor of economic history at Oxford University, says economics actually has more in common with literature than, say, physics.
It isn’t an obvious pairing. Literature’s understanding of economics is, at best, patchy and simplistic. Polonius’s advice in Hamlet to “neither a borrower nor a lender be” is well-meaning. But, taken too literally, it would undermine the entire global financial system.
Yet the literary canon, in all its vastness, does occasionally, almost accidentally, brush up against economics.